Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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Is Congress trying to fix the bench to impeach CJI for alleged bench fixing?

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After Rajya Sabha Chairman and VP Venkaiah Naidu rejected the Congress led impeachment notice against the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Congress decided to further politicize the matter. On 7 May, two Congress MPs approached the SC through another Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal challenging VP Naidu’s decision as politically motivated.

Sibal initially approached a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar requesting an urgent hearing of the matter. Justice Chelameswar initially asked Sibal to mention the matter before the CJI, however the bench later asked Sibal and Prashant Bhushan to “come back tomorrow”.

Later in the evening, the matter got listed for 8 May before a five judge bench headed by Justice Sikri. Other members of the bench were Justice Bobde, Justice Ramana, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Goel. During the hearing on 8 May, Sibal requested a copy of the administrative order for constitution of the bench so that the petitioners could decide whether to challenge that order or not.

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The bench rejected Sibal’s request and asked him to argue on merits of the matter. At this point, the petitioners decided to withdraw their petition. Thus, the court dismissed the petition as withdrawn.

This raises the question that by questioning the constitution of the five judge bench, are the petitioners and Sibal fishing for a favorable bench? It is possible that the petitioners and Sibal want the four ‘rebel’ judges to hear the matter, hoping to get a favorable verdict. The judges in their press conference had made allegations against the CJI related to abuse of power, which were included in the impeachment notice given by Congress led RS MPs. This effectively means that the five senior most judges including the CJI have a conflict of interest in this matter. Hence the decision to form a bench excluding all five of them is a sound one. Members of the five judge bench which heard Congress MPs’ petition are next in the seniority order, with Justice Sikri at #6.

Also, Sibal’s refusal to argue on the merits of the matter is an indicator that he knows that the petition challnging VP Naidu’s decision doesn’t have any merit, just like the impeachment notice. But it is unlikely that Congress’ theatrics, driven partly by the party’s attempt to pressurise the judiciary especially in the Ram Mandir matter and partly by Sibal’s deflated sense of entitlement will soon.

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